While my kid was ice skating for 4 hours this afternoon, I fell into a book, and kind of fell in love with hilarious, clever Maggie Mayfield. I was hanging out in the bookstore, and I think I stunned the people around me a number of times when I chuckled out loud at some turn of phrase or quip. Maggie is, like all of my favorite characters, quirky as can be, and I think she might very well be the funniest middle grade character I’ve come across. And in the midst of all the humor is a moving, tough story about a father with multiple sclerosis and a family coming to terms with his serious illness. I am always most impressed as a reader when an author can make me laugh and cry with the same book, sometimes on the same page; there’s something particularly beautiful to me about that juxtaposition, maybe because that is what life is really like, but it’s so difficult to capture in words. I also loved the imperfections of all the family members; often, particularly in books for children, the sick character is some kind of saint, or there is some schmaltzy coming together of everyone in the face of adversity, but not here. These are real people, loving and flawed and afraid.
I have no idea if actual middle grade kids will find Maggie as funny as I did, or the story as moving, and that is the main question I am left with after reading this book: I adored it, but is it a book that kids will enjoy in the same way? My gut is that they will enjoy it, possibly just as much, but probably in different ways. I was too caught up in loving this book to try to put on my Kid Perspective hat, but I worry that this wonderful novel has an audience problem. I want to beg Megan Jean Sovern to write a YA or adult novel, because I think she would nail it. Maybe this is a YA or adult novel? There are loads of references to drinking and drugs (Mom and Dad were hippies, and there is open discussion of their past, and they like their rum and coke in the present), and a teenager making out on a sofa, none of which bothered me because they didn’t feel gratuitous at all; it was just part of who this family was. But I know some of my 5th and 6th grade students might be uncomfortable with it, and some of them are ones I can think of that would otherwise be crazy for this book (or so I think): those realistic fiction junkies who love a good family tearjerker. I might be overthinking that, though. (But I just peeked at the Common Sense Media review, and while CSM says 9+ for age, there’s a parent review that says 13+ because of their child’s confusion/discomfort with the alcohol and sexual content. So there you go.)
So, in the end, I say ????? on audience, but I give the book an A. If anyone else has read the book, please weigh in on your thoughts on audience!
P.S. If you read this book, have some tissues handy, particularly when you read the Acknowledgments, which reveal a bit of the true story behind the novel.
P.P.S. Isn’t the cover of this book awesome?